Category Archives: Books and Product Reviews

Like a Butterfly – a film by Frank Neveu

review by Keith Clarkson

DVD Salamandre Films

www.salamandrefilms.net

 

like a Butterfly

Shrouded in mystery, it’s exotic appearance and association with some of the most spectacular and inaccessible mountain landscapes in the world has enshrined the Wallcreeper in birding folklore.

Now, this extraordinary DVD provides a window into the otherwise hidden world of this remarkable bird.

Filmed over a three and half year period, in a variety of exotic locations, focussed on the French Alps, the 150 hours of film rushes have been sweetly edited to produce a 20 minute feature film that follows a year in the life of the Wallcreeper.

Evocative winter scenes including striking images of Ibex and a feeding Goshawk set the scene for the returning male Wallcreeper. We are then taken through breeding season, territorial male aggression and song, nest selection by the female, incubation, hatching, feeding, dust bathing, fledging before the altitudinal migration to the wintering grounds in the gorges near Marseilles.

Throughout we are treated to an array of evocative sounds and beautiful images of the Wallcreeper and their neighbours – Lammergeier, Eagle Owl, Ptarmigan and Rock Thrush, in their natural environment.  Magical – it just made me want to go there and find them for myself.

And yet, however, dramatic these images are it was the accompanying extra -  ‘Like a butterfly – the making of the film’  that completely grabbed my imagination.  The short, subtitled, film captures the remarkable dedication, passion for nature, skill and endurance of the French filmmaking team, Frank Neveu, Christophe Sidamon Pesson and their associates. In the word’s of Sidamon-Pesson ‘‘you push the limits to enter the Wallcreeper’s world’  and that’s exactly what they did.

It was exhausting just watching the pre-dawn start, the ascents and abseil into the most flimsy like a Butterflyand precarious hide, bolted onto a vertical cliff face, oh yes, and, the hour-long roped climb back to the clifftop at the end of the12 hour hide session. I’d loved to have seen the risk assessment.

At the end of the ‘making of the film’  Frank Neveu nonchantly comments about the three and a half years –  ‘It has been a little harder than I thought’.  You are left in doubt that it was but having said that it, it was worth every moment – thank you for the insight into the wonderful world of the Wallcreeper.

Rare Birds of North America: REVIEW

Rare Birds of North America

By Steve Howell, Ian Lewington & Will Russell

reviewed by Mark James Pearsonk10101

As you’ll hopefully gather from the following paragraphs, there are many good reasons to commend the authors of Rare Birds of North America, but perhaps the most pertinent is their clarity of vision. It’s a book which has a very ambitious reach, attempting to play several major roles simultaneously, and could easily have come unstuck if any one of those roles fell short of the mark. Yet its bold remit and clear identity reflect not only the expertise and knowledge of its creators, but also their patent enthusiasm and authoritative attention to detail.

 

A sturdy hardback unlikely to find a place in the backpack, Rare Birds….. importantly makes no attempt to masquerade as a true field guide, and thus avoids the obvious pitfalls and limitations that would otherwise have hamstrung such an excellent work. The overall design benefits from a lack of those restrictions, and this is reflected by the clear, stylish and pleasingly accessible layout from start to finish. It’s a joy to handle, with high production values and an inherent feel of quality.

 

The positioning of the book as a companion (as opposed to competitor) to established field guides pays off perfectly in various ways. Take each species’ field identification summaries, for example: suitably concise and straightforward, and yet detailed enough to provide all the relevant points (including notes on similar species), the book works under the presumption that cross-referencing is a given, and is all the better for it. Likewise, there is no rigid template applied to the length of each account or the sections within them, allowing the authors freedom to prioritise and develop themes.

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Pleasingly, each of the 262 species accounts lack the sometimes arguably necessary (but supremely annoying) abbreviations often adopted elsewhere; instead, all the information is presented in an easily read and digested style, hopefully setting the bar high for similar works in the future. US states abbreviated into standard two-letter acronyms are thankfully about as esoteric as it gets (and if that’s still too much, think of it as valuable research for your next game of Trivial Pursuit).

 

Likewise, there’s no need to reduce the illustrations into frustratingly tiny representations, or indeed to cram multiple species onto the same plates; nor, on the other hand, are the plates excessively expansive. Instead, they occupy exactly the right amount of space on  the page, sitting comfortably alongside the accompanying text, with a comprehensive variety of races / ages / variations etc on display for each species.

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Of the plates: Ian Lewington has been understandably revered for his (increasingly) superb artwork over the years, but with Rare Birds… he’s clearly excelled himself once again. Enhanced by the high standard of printing and colour representation on display here, superlatives come easily when flicking through these pages; but perhaps the highest (and rarest) compliment a bird artist can be paid is for their work to considered both beautiful and accurate, which is unarguably the case here.

 

Picking out highlights is virtually impossible – there are too many to mention in any detail here – but it’s hard to look at the buntings, for example, without involuntarily salivating; they look even better when viewed down the hall through binoculars, and I’m half tempted to plant the Pine Bunting page in the bottom of a hawthorn hedge here in Filey, just for the practice.

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Primarily aimed at the North American market, the book nevertheless has numerous insights and much relevance to the British and European birder. There are various cases here where a kind of simple ‘reverse’ referencing is easily applied; notable examples include the Sandpipers and Egrets, although the book is littered with solutions to ID problems well known to birders this side of the pond. Faced with an interesting peep this September on your local wetland, for instance, you could do much worse than turning to the illuminating text and plates (primarily concerning Little Stint) here first, before more traditional choices.

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Another less important but similarly enjoyable side-effect of the book is how it encourages the British-based reader to look at familiar species through an unfamilar filter. In an extension of the ‘if only it were rare’ game (we all play it on those boring February days, don’t we?), looking at the Fieldfare plates against the additionally spicy backdrop of vagrancy revitalises one’s appreciation of such stunning yet taken-for-granted species.

Similarly absorbing, and in a sense the outstanding feature of the book, is the inclusion of the comments sections within each species account. Delivered with a refreshingly enthusiastic and conversational flavour, these invaluable paragraphs allow the authors to hypothesise and discuss the minutiae of each species’ vagrancy patterns (down to individual records in many instances), bringing alive the reality of occurrence and the possibility of finding your own.

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As someone with a worsening weakness for the unique thrill of rarity-hunting (as well as  the good fortune to have birded in the US a fair bit in recent years), I’m doubtless already part of the congregation the book hopes to preach to; drooling over almost unattainable but glittering avian prizes within such pages is practically a hobby in itself, and if you share similarly unhealthy habits, then look no further.

 

But to confine the book’s appeal to those united by the pursuit of vagrants is to do it a disservice. One of its many strengths lies in its breadth of appeal and accessibility (without feeling the need to dumb down). The extended introductory chapters alone are a pleasure to read, wherever you may place yourself on the birding spectrum. The section on ‘Where Do North American Vagrants Come From?’, for example, is a nerd’s dream, and yet is followed seamlessly by a ‘Topography, Molt and Aging’ chapter that much more generalist and populist works would do well to try and emulate.

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This is a book that ambitiously attempts to be many things – part comprehensive identification guide, part commentary, part definitive reference work, part hypotheses reader, amongst others – and impressively succeeds on all counts, without so much as breaking into a sweat. Highly recommended, regardless of where (or how) you enjoy your birding.

 

Mark James Pearson

 

Mark’s writing – http://markjamespearson.wordpress.com/

Mark’s blog – http://northernrustic.blogspot.co.uk/

 

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Waterford Press. Pocket Guide, Birds of Britain (+ many more):

An Introduction to the Familiar Species of England, Scotland and Wales

Review by Anthony Hurd1583552383

On receiving the Pocket Naturalist ‘Birds of Britain: An Introduction to the Familiar Species of England, Scotland and Wales’ my initial thoughts were, this is a smaller and simpler version of an FSC guide with respect to the glossy card used. We use FSC guides here on the shore during Living Seas Centre events and education sessions so I know they do not withstand too many submerging’s into rock pools!! But despite its flimsy nature, this guide is certainly ‘pocket’ sized.

Inside, the guide covers 160+ species and divides them into ‘water birds’, ‘perching birds’, ‘birds of prey’ and ‘doves, woodpeckers etc.’ The illustrations are good enough but the guide is limited to showing mainly adult males in breeding plumage. Whilst the sizes of each species are stated (bill to tail tip) the illustrations are not to scale. So, in summary, this is definitely a beginner’s guide and will introduce people to the basics of our common bird species. But once people start noticing that female birds of certain species are quite different to their male counterparts this guide doesn’t offer any help. Also, disappointingly, the map on the back of ‘Birding Hotspots’ is blank between Cley and Lindisfarne!! Apparently we are devoid of ‘birding Hotspots’ here in Yorkshire! I’ll let you be the judge of that!!

Visit the Waterford Press site for:

Birds of Britain

Birds of Ireland

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Anthony Hurd, Living Seas Centre Manager for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

 

The Tight Yorkshireman Guide to DIY birding

Part 1

Discovering Neoprene

G. Tyke

Having forked out a small fortune for a long overdue new Swarovski scope in the summer of 2013, I pondered whether to buy a stay on case, until I saw the £200 price tag. To my mind the scope is rubber armoured and gas-filled and should look after itself in the field, therefore the purpose of a case is only to protect its exterior and appearance to maintain its value.

I noticed that the bird photographers protected their expensive gear with neoprene tubes typically costing forty quid to cover a 400mm lens.

I’d like to make clear at this point, despite already being labelled (or should it be libel’d) on this website as a tight Yorkshireman. This is merely a matter of not spending brass,’ tha’ dunt need to’and it’s unfounded and unfair to suggest that Yorkshiremen are stereotypically mean for adopting this approach.

Anyway, the discovery of neoprene sheet and the cottage industry that has sprung up from all its applications and money saving opportunities, are keeping me busy.  With very little internet research I found over a square meter of 3mm camouflaged patterned neoprene for less than 25 quid (bargain) and black wetsuit repair tape at £1.33 per metre ( same price as half a brown ale). Neoprene strips are simply cut and then joined together by ironing on the tape. The only tools required are a pen, a pair of scissors and the wife’s sewing tape-measure and her iron.

It’s amazing how far the material goes, I’ve loads left and have found myself thinking of what I can make with the offcuts. However, I was a little disappointed that the wife was not as appreciative as I’d hoped when on Christmas morning she opened her present, a pair of handmade camouflage print neoprene slippers. I’m having second thoughts about the hand bag for her birthday!

Below is a series of photographs of my protected equipment and showing just how easy and quick it is to work with.

Above my expensive new scope in its camouflaged finery   patent pending G Tyke

Above my expensive new scope in its camouflaged finery patent pending G Tyke

Take the measurement around the lens then deduct  c15mm to create elasticity and a tight fit

Take the measurement around the lens then deduct c15mm to create elasticity and a tight fit

It's really easy a quick to tape two edges together to make a sleeve (no I’m not making the wife a coat) for a lens.

It’s really easy a quick to tape two edges together to make a sleeve (no I’m not making the wife a coat) for a lens.
Protect your lens for less than a fiver

Protect your lens for less than a fiver

A cautionary note to finish on for this the first installment of the tight Yorkshireman’s guide to DIY birding kit. I recommend getting permission and indeed tuition on using the iron from its owner. Regrettably I wasted some of the wet-suit tape and burnt myself when steam unexpectedly came out. And in the interest of matrimonial harmony clean off any sticky glue residue before you put the iron back in cupboard.

Look out for my next money-saving idea on how to prevent piles when seawatching

Generosity Tyke

The Bird Atlas 2007-2011

Review from YOU!

Arguably the most authentic reviews come from ‘public reviews’. I (MG) bought my own copy of the new atlas. Rather than my waffle, I am opening this up for consumer/ birder based reviews of one of the most talked about books at the end of 2013.

Please tell us what you think- is this one to get, read, borrow or ignore?

Just use ‘leave a reply/comments box’ at end of the post.

And if you haven’t seen it, here’a peak including chapters on Spotted Redshank, Gannet, Storm Petrel and Red-necked Phalarope. (thanks to Jeff Baker and Dawn Balmer).

Atlas-Front_Cover_web

 

just click on the links below and scroll though to see samples chapters

PDF_logo Chapter on data analysis and map production

 

PDF_logo Chapter on Gannet

 

PDF_logo Chapter on Spotted Redshank

 

PDF_logo Chapter on Storm Petrel

 

PDF_logo Chapter on Red-necked Phalarope 

Birding essentials: the Muckboot

Roger Riddington

I’ve never written anything about wellies before. Ever. A welly is a welly is a welly, right? That’s what I thought for most of my birding life. For two or three years in the late 80s and early 90s, I was sufficiently misguided to be seen in standard Hunter green wellies (OK, look, I was at Oxford at the time – and at least I chopped those stupid buckles off, lest they get snagged in a mistnet). Apart from that, I’ve generally bought a cheap and serviceable pair of black rubber wellies, thrown ‘em away when they leaked and not thought much more about it. Arriving in Shetland in 1992 soon highlighted the design flaws in Hunter wellies. Those nice soft rubber soles that make them comfortable for walking wear down smooth remarkably quickly and the boots become potentially lethal anywhere near a cliff edge after that. Equally, like most wellies, there’s little or no support for your feet in a pair. And, lets face it, they look a bit poncy as well. Nul point to the Hunter!

More than 200 years ago, the Duke of Wellington, fed up with trudging off to battle in the common-or-garden hessian boot that was standard issue for the cavalry back in the eighteenth century, dispatched a telegram to his bootmaker to look lively and come up something better. The bootmaker, Hoby of London, fairly got his act together and the resulting creation, lovingly crafted in baby-soft calfskin leather, was a revelation. Ok, that may be a mite OTT, but they caught on. Apparently, the boot was not only hardwearing for battle, it was comfortable for the evening too (which in the Duke’s case no doubt meant banqueting with the great and the good as well as nipping down the Nag’s Head for a jar or two with the chaps).

roger wwwww

Here is the Duke at Waterloo wearing his own design and looking generally pleased with himself. I read somewhere that Wellington’s dashing new boots quickly caught on with patriotic British gentlemen. Not only that, they were considered fashionable and foppish and worn by dandies, and they remained the main fashion for men through the 1840s. Well!

Back to reality… Some five years ago, maybe more, Muckboots www.muckbootcompany.com started to appear in Shetland. Proud owners in the vanguard of the movement reckoned they were the proverbial dogsb***ocks. They were warm, cosy and comfortable, and they looked alright too. Perfect for a birding dandy. I confess, I was sceptical, ‘specially after looking at the price tag. I caved in about three years ago though, and having just bought my second pair last autumn, was delighted to receive a pair of the new Arctic Sport muckers for review. Hence this post…

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to go on much longer. I can get the review over with in very few words. Basically Muckboots are really good. Courtesy of their neoprene lining they are toasty warm. When it’s cold, they are on a different planet from conventional wellies. They have a decent sole that doesn’t wear down like the aforementioned hunters. I haven’t fallen off a cliff once in Muckboots. They are close-fitting round your calves, and they are dead comfortable to wear – all day. (By the way, ignore the usual welly advice and don’t buy a size up to wear with thick socks – just get your normal shoe size.) Most people seem to find them comfortable immediately; I find that I need a few outings in a new pair before they feel like slippers. For me, the very best thing about them is unquestionably that they give you proper ankle support, courtesy of the firm, yet still lightweight rubber that encases the foot and ankle. That was the real reason I bought them – in my advancing middle age, and with footballing injuries of old becoming an increasing problem, getting through an autumn of slogging up Quendale and trying to avoid twisted ankles in rabbit holes was becoming a challenge. Now, I admit it, I wouldn’t be without Muckboots. I would honestly have said that before those nice gentlemen at Muckboot sent me a pair to write about.

Drawbacks? On a hot day they can get too hot – but no worse than any other welly. But if you want a pair for walking the dog on a cold winter’s morning get the Arctic Sport (which are fleece-lined inside the neoprene); and if you want a year-round allrounder the Muckmaster (previously known as the Tayboot) is what you need. [And try and avoid green. Black is the new black after all. Darling.]

muckb

And, coming back to drawbacks, the price. £80-ish is ballpark. But, and here’s the thing: they should last just as long as an average pair of walking boots, which cost the same or more if you get a waterproof pair. And if you’re birding iris beds and wet ditches in the autumn – and let’s face it, where else would you be birding in autumn? – wellies and overtrousers are de-rigueur. Walking boots, gaiters and overtrousers, or any combination thereof, just don’t cut it.

 

In short, dear reader, the modern birding dandy is wearing Muckboots. You simply can’t afford not to!

 

 

 

Tracks and Signs of the Animals and Birds of Britain and Europe

by Lars-Henrik Olsen206580

Book Review: by Mark James Pearson

(Visit Mark’s writing pages and also his birding blog)

It’s worth mentioning from the off that, far from being an expert on the topics covered in this book, keen amateur is a fairer description of your reviewer; but with a developing interest in such things (as well as more opportunity to learn, having recently relocated to the provinces), approaching Lars-Henrik Olsen’s Tracks and Signs… from such an angle seems as valid as any.

 

Theoretically this is a book that is intended to be taken out into the field, and as such, it’s well designed; soft-back, wipe-clean, sturdy, hard-wearing and strongly bound, it feels like a good field guide should. It is, however, too large to comfortably carry on your person, and at best therefore competes for space, and weight, in a backpack – a reflection, perhaps, of the minor identity crisis the book suffers from (addressed further below). e483bf06-28ef-4b10-8247-1cf8b7c97cc0 n

The first part of the book is divided into sections, covering a range of subjects – from feeding signs on trees, to antlers, nests and dens and so on – all of which are well presented and engaging, embellished with high quality photos and illustrations. The tracks section (arguably one of the key features of the book) is clearly formatted and easy to reference, with illustrated prints alongside track sequences and measurements.

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Somewhat predictably I’d like to have seen more space dedicated to birds – more information on e.g. woodpecker holes, more in-depth treatment of remains likely to be found in owl pellets and the like – and the book’s title perhaps implies better avian-related coverage than it delivers. Despite this, the related sections on e.g. feathers, nests and feeding signs on cones are informative introductions to the subjects.

The second part (and the lion’s share) of the book is dedicated to species accounts – dealing almost entirely with land mammals – each consisting of a varying amount of text, photographs, and a distribution map. The written accounts are instructive, concise, and are a font of fascinating information (which I’m still enjoying and learning from, and will be for some time yet). The distribution maps are necessarily quite small, generalising each species range across the continent and perhaps best serving their purpose as a rough guide for where to travel in pursuit of the animals described.

The photographs are excellent, almost without exception; a testament to the high standards of the author and publisher and the extensive pool of photographer’s archives and libraries they draw from. It’s not easy to choose favourites, although the Alpine Marmot and the tree-hugging Wolverine spring to mind; probably best not to linger too long on p194′s mouse scat on meat, however, particularly on a full stomach.206580_3

And this is where the book seemingly falls between two stools (as it were). As a genuine field guide (i.e., one to be used in the field), it could comfortably lose plenty of the content in the species accounts; a case in point is the space occupied by species photographs, particularly familiar ones – three photographs of House Mouse (one of which occupies half a page) seems unnecessary at best, for example – where more photos of e.g. the variation in scats would surely serve both the reader and the premise of the book better.206580_5

As more of a housebound reference book (which it arguably leans more towards), such themes could be developed further without the same concern for proportions; several photos of each animal involved, comparably differing scats, sets of tracks, signs, etc, with more in-depth information on e.g. behaviour or range would perhaps make for a more indispensable resource.

There are a few minor errors and oversights – the captioned Brown Hare on p55 is a Rabbit; the ‘duck’ in the clutches of the American Mink on p159 is a Little Grebe; Southern Water Vole is missing a distribution map; the illustration, description and photo of Short-eared Owl pellets are contradictory – but they are few and far between, and hardly impinge on the overall quality of the book.

Despite the aforementioned reservations, it’s a fascinating, high-quality, good value and very informative book that I’d happily recommend to anyone with an interest in the subject, and I’m looking forward to test-driving it in the North Yorkshire forests this winter.

Mark James Pearson (writing pages and birding blog)

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